God is restoring creativity and the creative arts to His people. He wants those who are called by His name to lead the world in the pursuit and practice of art. As he is restoring the arts, we need to be aware of what is broken, what he is fixing so that we can move forward in His restoration. Marriages that are broken do not get better by sweeping the past under the rug, or drawing a line in the sand and moving on. Behaviors and patterns of behavior need to be recognized, addressed and repented of before true, lasting restoration can take place.
The first broken area has to do with the quality of art that is coming out of Christianity. I’m sure this is going to offend some people, but we have to recognize certain things so that we can have a clean break from them. I’m just coming out and saying it. If you are a fan of Christian bands, you might want to stop reading here.
Christian art is not good.
Christian music, in most cases, is poor art.
I will allow a qualification that there are some bands that are doing things right (in case you are wondering, I put U2, Mute Math and Earthsuit before it in, Hillsong for the most part in this category), but in saying that, I know that people will put their own favorite bands into that category. They’re probably not. Please bear with me in evaluating the Christian art market and especially your own favorites.
I write this as I’m on a train from Frankfurt to Koln, Germany. Cruising through the snow blanketed German countryside, I see good art. Art that is perfected in its form and usefulness. Art that exists for beauty, yet still has function. Ultimate good design. And it’s painted by God on the canvas of the earth. Unfortunately, for people created in God’s image, with his creative abilities inside us, powered by His Spirit to do so, we do a poor job creating.
Some of the reasons we’ll get to in other posts, but we have to recognize that many Christian artists are no longer living up to the standards of Michaelangelo, Bach, and Handel. We produce music that violates the Word of God and gobble it up in an insatiable consumer frenzy. We listen to Christians songs that dont dive deep into our faith, stating doctrine that is shallow and often poorly understood. And its not just in Christian Pop/Rock/Alt/Metal/Etc genres, the worship genres suffer as well.
Christian Hip-Hop repeatedly talks about the rapper sending demons to hell, when the Bible says that even Michael dared not bring a reviling accusation against the devil. Some worship songs talk about lifting hands high, and bowing down low in the same verse (possible but the intentions of each act are not necessarily congruous)–Jesus said we will worship is Spirit and in Truth. In worship it is critical that we have good doctrine and good song craft.
The Bible also says to be slow to anger, yet we have entire genres of Christian music that trade in angst. We are told not to imitate the world in the Word yet you can lookup your favorite secular artist on a chart and then make a comparison to find the sound-alike Christian version. And dont think thats not on purpose. When the A&R guys are looking over their portfolio, they will say “We need a Christian Dave Matthews” and then go find one. Remember, most Christian labels are owned by secular companies.
But Im not here to cast stones. We just need to recognize the issue. We have been told so long that we should not listen to the secular and listen only to Christian. We have been delivered a bill of goods that says that lyrical content is the highest value in musical art. And beyond that, uplifting, evangelical lyrical content is the prize.
Lets take care to evaluate the musicianship of the bands we listen to. The craft of the lyrics, the depth of the doctrine, the truth in the words. Songwriters in the secular world can spend months or years building songs to perfection. But here we come, where love predictably gets rhymed with from above more often than not. And “fall down” shows up in 3-4 songs or more per album.
Lets look at Christian books as well. Many are not worth the paper they are written on. I followed one series that had so much promise, but ended up being a poorly done retelling of a CS Lewis masterpiece. Another had such bad editing that angels stood on the parameter of the throne, not the perimeter.
Lets evaluate what we are buying. We vote with our dollars. When we recognize it as bad art but still purchase it,we are validating that bad art and the industries that create it. I have a friend in the industry who had a goal to reach the lost through music. But their album was only available at Christian bookstores. News flash! Its not going to reach people if they cant get it. We need to stand on principle. If we are making art to evangelize, thats great. But then it needs to be seen where non-believers live (and bought where non-believers can find it).
We spend an awful lot of time entertaining the saints. While not necessarily bad, last I checked, that wasnt part of the great commission. Let’s be honest with our intentions and goals as artists and consumers of art. Another post will deal with the “evangelism” issue, but we need to clearly know WHY we are producing what we are producing.
Some things to think about.
- What is the art saying? What I am I saying through my art?
- Is my message inline with the Word? Is the medium and style in line with the Word?
- Is the skill excellent? Musicianship, songwriting, painting, dance, writing, comedy…
- If there are words, are they well crafted? Do they take into account good rhyme or flow? Do the words have impact? Is there a key message that all the words support?
A pause here to explain. The human ear likes to hear things in cadence and with stresses and releases. This is true not just of hearing but visuals and other sensory input as well. Words and sentences and melodies, as well as harmonies should have tension and resolves. Certain words have good poetic flow, others do not. Look for tension and release. The heavy bridge that builds tension through a key change or alternate chords that explodes into the chorus is an example. The verse that builds tension which the chorus releases in lyric is another.
- In song, do my harmonies and melodies match my lyrical content?Meaning, if the lyrics are joyful, is the harmony also joyful? Or, is the juxtaposition of the two part of the message?
- Does the artist have integrity, or what is the artists reason for making art? IWhy do I create? Is it so people can read to my genius insights? Is it so that I can be famous? Is it to make money? Is it an offering, a sacrifice? Is it to aid others in worship? Is is purely a love of the craft?
Lets purpose to be thoughtful in our consumption of the arts, both secular and Christian. Just because it’s bought in a Christian book store doesnt mean it’s good. And conversely, just because its secular doesnt mean its bad. Being purposeful and thoughtful about all our consumption is a good thing.